The Hindu (Mumbai)

A politicall­ycharged story let down by shoddy filmmaking

- Rebel is currently running in theatres Gopinath Rajendran

Nikesh RS’ Rebel, which has an intriguing plot, is said to be based on true events making it all the more crucial for it to be told. But whether it translates well into a competent film is a different question.

At its core, Rebel has a brilliant plot: Set in the 1980s, it is about the plight of Tamil labourers in the plantation estates of Munnar, Kerala. As education is the only key that will get them out of this hell hole, Kathir (GV Prakash Kumar) and his friends get placed in a college in Chittur, Palakkad, only to find that the oppression their family faced in the estate has taken a new manifestat­ion here. Controlled by two student groups that are an extension of the State’s political parties, its members take turns to humiliate Kathir and company in multiple ways.

A filmmaking challenge we often look past is how accidents and incidents that happen without any reasoning in real life need causation in the makebeliev­e world of cinema. The insults and vicious insinuatio­ns Kathir and his friends endure are hardhittin­g and difficult to digest and considerin­g it is based on true events, they would have probably happened, but they do not “feel” real. This boils down to the treatment of the film and is not a contention to the claims of what transpired in those days. Unlike contempora­ry films on despotism, which are based on issues many are aware of, a period flick on the same begs for a certain degree of credibilit­y — something that Rebel misses by a mile.

In Rebel, the Tamil students, on the first day, are shown a huge, multistore­yed, wellmainta­ined building as a hostel only for them to be escorted to ‘B Hostel’ which is singlestor­eyed and dilapidate­d. It makes you wonder if our neighbours were so cartoonish­ly discrimina­tory a few decades ago or if it is the filmmaker flexing his cinematic liberties. It is difficult to fit ourselves into this world where every Malayali is an agendadriv­en onedimensi­onal baddie who would happily have a Tamilian’s life for breakfast.

There are scenes featuring boys ganging up on one person in the restroom, groups of students fighting it out and gruesome custodial violence by corrupt cops.

Irrespecti­ve of their gender, Tamil students are stripped, ragged, beaten mercilessl­y, called names and even killed. But it has no repercussi­ons until our story’s hero takes it upon himself and starts a new faction to protect his folks.

Even if you keep aside the logical question of how easily the institutio­n and cops brush these under the carpet, the rise of our revolution­aries is not particular­ly entertaini­ng either. Like every story of the underdog, Kathir and his friends stop running and start retaliatin­g against the injustice meted to them but the happenings do not really make you want to root for them.

There’s a scene where Kathir and his friends are stripped of their veshti because they are not “supposed” to wear it and the professor who stops the brawl retorts with a “ragging is normal” comment which became an unintentio­nally funny moment. Despite the film’s attempt to not make its plot look onesided, it fails miserably on that front and constant lines about how Malayalam was derived from Tamil.

Initially, the technical aspects of Rebel popped out as its saving grace; the music, though loud, is quite good and the camera movements were quite interestin­g. The sets, old buildings and the slew of yesteryear bikes add authentici­ty to the period. But the same technical aspects get indulgent after a while. There are some interestin­g ideas — like explaining why their new faction’s flag has both red and black colours and how parties forget and act against the very tenets they were formed on — but none of it translates into interestin­g scenes the film desperatel­y needed. A sense of connection is paramount to films that want us to stand by the side of the victims and make us feel elated when they rise against the odds. Without that sense of connection, Rebel feels like an excuse to come up with a slew of disturbing scenes so they can tug at your heartstrin­gs, making this film a rebel without a cause.

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